Identify Fake News

This guide is designed to provide teachers and students with a clear understanding of how to identify fake news, how it can harm our society, and how to identify and respond to it.

We also have a guide on Critical Thinking Skills around Fake News for teachers and students, including teaching strategies and lesson plans.

What is Fake News?

Fake news can be described as “False or misleading content presented as news and communicated in formats spanning spoken, written, printed, electronic, and digital communication.”

Nolan Higdon, Media Scholar

Despite popular opinion, the term Fake News has existed for a while. Though it certainly has become something of a buzzword in recent years. Gone are the days when we all get our news exclusively from longstanding newspapers and a handful of television channels. 

The power of broadcasting information is now in everyone’s hands, thanks to social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.

While this has greatly ‘democratized’ the sharing of information, it has also thrown up some authentic problems that we must help our students to navigate, for example:

  • How can I spot fake news from actual news?
  • How do I know if a source of information is credible?
  • What is ‘clickbait’, and how can I recognize it?
  • What is propaganda, and how can I identify it?

The first step to spotting fake news is to define clearly what is meant by the term itself. Unfortunately, this has been made all the more difficult as ‘fake news’ has become a convenient slur used by one side to cast doubt on the claims of their political opponents.

The skill of how to spot fake news has rapidly evolved from an academic skill to a life skill.

A Complete Teaching Unit on Fake News

fake news unit

Digital and social media have completely redefined the media landscape, making it difficult for students to identify FACTS AND OPINIONS covering:

  • Fake News
  • Bias
  • Clickbait
  • Rumors
  • Radicalization
  • Social Media, algorithms and technology
  • Research Skills
  • Fact-Checking Beyond Google and Alexa

Teach them to FIGHT FAKE NEWS with this COMPLETE 42 PAGE UNIT. No preparation is required,

Consequences of Fake News

Fake news has significant consequences, leading to misinformation, division, and erosion of trust in institutions. It can sway public opinion, influence elections, and incite violence.

Education is essential in an era of digital media saturation, where misinformation spreads rapidly through social networks. Media literacy empowers individuals to critically evaluate information, discern credible sources, and navigate the complexities of the digital landscape.

By teaching students to question, analyze, and verify news sources, educators equip them with the tools to effectively combat fake news. Without education in media literacy, individuals are more susceptible to manipulation, polarization, and the harmful effects of misinformation. Promoting critical thinking skills and responsible online behaviour fosters informed citizens capable of navigating the modern information age with discernment and integrity.

Types of Fake News

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To begin the process of spotting fake news, students need to understand there are three main types to recognize:

  1. False Stories: Though these stories may dress in the clothes of news, they are entirely fabricated. They are usually invented to sell a particular product, entice the reader to visit a specific website, or even mislead the reader into believing something false.
  2. Half-Truths: These are usually much more difficult to spot as they contain elements of truth mixed among falsehoods and misrepresentations. For example, a journalist might quote a source accurately but deliberately neglect to provide important context to what was said.
  3. Clickbait: The purpose of clickbait is solely to get readers to click a link. Misleading headlines that don’t accurately reflect the article’s content are often used. The clicks create ad revenue for the site owner. Clickbait is usually easy to recognize due to its overreliance on sensationalism to gain the reader’s attention.
  4. Biased Reporting: When a story is covered but done so that the reader misses balanced information on the topic, this can be considered biased. Deliberately leaving one side of a story out or overemphasizing the other will generally lead to a biased news story told from one deliberate perspective.

Regardless of the type, fake news will always mimic the appearance of news but will lack the verifiable facts, credible sources, and objectivity that is the mark of real news.

In the face of such convincing fraud, our students must be trained to evaluate news sources to accurately distinguish the reliable and the fair-minded from the phony and one-sided. 

In the remainder of this article, we’ll examine six practical strategies to help students do just that. We’ll also look at several online tools students can use to assist them in their fake news detection efforts.

This is an Example of a completely false story. 

Headline: Unbelievable Incident Unfolds: Man Bites Dog in Bizarre Turn of Events!

In a jaw-dropping incident that has left the town baffled, a man has reportedly bitten a dog in what can only be described as a truly bizarre turn of events. Eyewitnesses claim to have seen the unthinkable scene unfold on a quiet suburban street in broad daylight.

According to sources close to the situation, the man, identified only as Mr. X, was taking a leisurely stroll with his pet Chihuahua when suddenly, without warning, he allegedly sank his teeth into the unsuspecting dog's hind leg. Shocked onlookers could hardly believe their eyes as the unusual spectacle unfolded before them.

"I couldn't believe what I was seeing," said Mrs. Johnson, a neighbor who witnessed the incident. "The dog was just minding its own business, and then out of nowhere, this man lunged at it and bit it! It was like something out of a horror movie."

Speculation is rife as to what could have motivated such a peculiar act. Some bystanders have suggested that Mr. X may have been under the influence of a potent hallucinogenic substance, while others have theorized that he may have been attempting to protect his beloved pet from some unseen threat.

Authorities are currently investigating the matter, and Mr. X has been taken into custody for questioning. In the meantime, concerned citizens are being urged to remain vigilant and report any unusual behavior they may observe in their neighborhoods.

As news of the incident spreads, social media has been ablaze with reactions ranging from shock to amusement. Memes and jokes about the "man bites dog" phenomenon have been circulating widely online, with many expressing disbelief at the sheer absurdity of the situation.

While the true motive behind the man's actions remains unclear, one thing is for certain: this is one story that will be talked about for years to come. Stay tuned for further updates as this peculiar case continues to unfold.
This half truth article has elements of news we might believeable but is lacking in any verifiable sources or pieces of information.

Headline: Unusual Altercation Leaves Dog Injured: Man Claims Self-Defense

In a peculiar turn of events, a dog was left injured following an altercation with a man in a suburban neighborhood. Witnesses reported a commotion on the street, culminating in an unexpected encounter between a man and the canine.

According to eyewitnesses, the dog, known to be aggressive towards passersby, allegedly lunged at the man as he walked past. In an act of apparent self-defense, the man reacted instinctively, resulting in a bite to the dog's hind leg. The dog retreated, yelping in pain, while the man quickly made his exit from the scene.

Neighbors who witnessed the incident expressed mixed reactions, with some sympathizing with the man's actions, citing concerns about the dog's aggressive behavior in the past. Others, however, were shocked by the sudden violence and rushed to aid the injured animal.

Authorities were called to the scene shortly after the incident, and the injured dog was taken to a nearby veterinary clinic for treatment. The extent of the dog's injuries has not been disclosed, but sources indicate that it is expected to make a full recovery.

Upon questioning, the man involved in the altercation claimed that he felt threatened by the dog's behavior and acted in self-defense to protect himself from harm. Police are currently investigating the incident further to determine if any charges will be filed.

As news of the unusual altercation spreads, residents in the neighborhood are left contemplating the complexities of the situation. While some sympathize with the man's actions, others are left questioning the circumstances that led to such a bizarre encounter.

This incident serves as a reminder of the importance of responsible pet ownership and the need for proper training and supervision to prevent such confrontations in the future. As the investigation continues, authorities urge anyone with information about the incident to come forward.
This Clickbait example is short on content but high on hype and expectation.  It is written with a strong hook that may not be relevant or accurate and designed to keep the reader wondering when the facts will arrive, if ever.

Headline: Unbelievable! Man Bites Dog and You Won't Believe What Happens Next!

In a story that sounds straight out of a Hollywood blockbuster, a man's bizarre encounter with a dog has taken the internet by storm, leaving jaws dropped and questions swirling. Brace yourselves for the unbelievable details!

It all started innocently enough, with a man taking a leisurely stroll through his neighborhood. But what happened next shocked even the most seasoned onlookers. Out of nowhere, this ordinary man found himself face to face with a canine adversary, and what he did next will leave you speechless!

In a moment of sheer audacity, the man didn't just shoo away the dog like most would. No, he took matters into his own hands, or rather, his own teeth! That's right, folks, you heard it here first - he bit the dog back!

But hold on, it gets even crazier. Instead of the expected chaos and mayhem, what followed was a truly unexpected turn of events. The dog, stunned by the man's unexpected retaliation, actually backed off, tail between its legs! Can you believe it?

Now, as the internet explodes with speculation and theories about this unprecedented showdown, one thing is clear: this is one doggone story you won't want to miss! Click now to uncover the jaw-dropping details and join the debate about whether this man is a hero or just plain bonkers!
Headline: Heroic Act or Animal Cruelty? Man Takes Drastic Measures to Defend Against Vicious Dog Attack

In a shocking incident that has sparked intense debate and divided public opinion, a man has been hailed as a hero by some for his bold actions in the face of danger, while others decry his behavior as an act of animal cruelty. The incident occurred in a quiet suburban neighborhood, where residents were left stunned by the dramatic confrontation.

Eyewitnesses report that the man, identified as Mr. Smith, was walking peacefully along the street when he was suddenly accosted by a ferocious dog, known for its aggressive behavior towards passersby. Without warning, the snarling canine lunged at Mr. Smith, baring its teeth and threatening to attack.

In a split-second decision, Mr. Smith took matters into his own hands, or rather, his own teeth, as he bravely fought back against the vicious animal. With adrenaline coursing through his veins, he sank his teeth into the dog's flesh, effectively neutralizing the threat and preventing further harm.

While some witnesses applauded Mr. Smith's quick thinking and courage in the face of danger, others were quick to condemn his actions as excessive and inhumane. Animal rights activists have called for swift justice, demanding that Mr. Smith be held accountable for his alleged brutality towards the defenseless animal.

As the community grapples with conflicting emotions and opinions, one thing is clear: the incident has reignited the age-old debate of where to draw the line between self-defense and animal cruelty. While Mr. Smith may have acted out of necessity to protect himself from harm, the lasting repercussions of his actions on both man and beast remain to be seen.

Strategies for Identifying Fake News

Develop a Critical Mindset

Developing a critical mindset is the first and most important aspect of learning how to spot fake news. 

This active skill requires students to engage their rational and reflective minds whenever they read or hear something. To do this, they must ask questions – and lots of them!

Students will initially need to ask questions about the things they see or hear consciously. With practice, however, they will instinctively rigorously question the messages they are exposed to.

They must develop a systematic approach to help students make critical thinking a habit. Encourage your students to ask the following questions when they encounter a new source (you may even like to make a display of these questions for your classroom):

  • Who said it?
  • What did they say?
  • Where did they say it?
  • When did they say it?
  • Why did they say it?
  • How did they say it?

Each of these questions provides a good starting point that will allow students to dig deeper into the integrity of a source and ask further follow-up questions.

Check the Source and Publisher

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Whether the student wishes to check the site an article is hosted on or a site linked to as a supporting source, the following method applies.

First, the student should look at the URL address and who owns it. 

Is the website from a reputable organization or an established institution? 

One way to help assess this is to look at the domain suffix (the last part of the web address), as not all domain suffixes are created equal.

For example, the popular .com ending usually denotes a commercial site. While this does not automatically mean the information the site contains is unreliable, it is helpful to know the site’s primary purpose is to sell goods or services when weighing up the reliability of the information.

On the other hand, educational institutions use the domain ending .edu. Again, this doesn’t guarantee the reliability of the content, but it can be a starting point for further investigation. Students should dig deeper. For example, if the source is from a research centre at an educational institution, the student is most likely dealing with a reliable source. 

Encourage vigilance, though. Sometimes, students can host blogs on institutional websites. These personal blogs frequently contain opinion-based information that isn’t necessarily subject to the rigorous peer review process that research generally undergoes.

To learn more about the institution that owns the website, students should look at the About Us tab and related tabs such as Our Mission, Aims, Vision, etc. This may give some helpful information on which students can base their evaluation.

Two other important domain suffixes for students to recognize are .gov and .org.

.gov websites are official government sources, while .org used to be exclusively for non-profit organizations. However, sometimes, such organizations are sponsored by commercial entities.

Once the students have looked at the site publisher, they should investigate the author. 

Who are they? What are their credentials in this area? 

A simple online search of an author’s name often reveals lots of helpful information for students evaluating their value as a source.

Cross Reference With Other Sources

Another way to gauge the validity of a news story from a particular source is to cross-reference it with other trusted sources. 

For example, can the student find the same story reported by respected global news companies? 

If the only place the story appears is on a dubious website with clear commercial or political ends, then the account is much more likely to be fake news.

Carefully listening to or reading a news story can often reveal opportunities to check the story out. 

For example, what are local media outlets saying about what happens if an oil spill is reported off the coast?

When news is reliable, it will most likely be possible to confirm it through several other reputable news sources.

Gather Your Own Evidence

Cross-referencing stories with other news reports isn’t the only way to find validity evidence. Usually, the news will contain other specific types of evidence that can be checked individually.

Can other sources confirm the interviews and quotes in the story? Is there video or audio footage, for example? 

Students should seek out supporting (or contradictory) sources and weigh up the news report in light of what they uncover.

How about surveys and statistics? Do the numbers confirm what has been reported?

Here, students need to be careful, too. The careful selection of numbers can be used to prove almost anything! As a British statesman once said, “There are three kinds of falsehoods, lies, damn lies, and statistics!”

Ensure Your Information is current.

We live in the age of the 24-hour news cycle. Unlike a bygone era, when printing and broadcast schedules allowed for time to edit, fact-check, and amend news before publishing, news can reach a global audience instantly at the push of a button.

On the other hand, whereas TV broadcasts and daily newspapers are somewhat disposable, news articles published online can remain permanently in the virtual world.

Often, they are published and forgotten about. Though new facts may subsequently come to light, these articles aren’t updated. To ensure students are up-to-date with the news, they should always check the date the article was published. The date of publication is often printed just under the article’s title.

With the widespread use of social media, old news articles are frequently reposted and reshared, often without explicitly stating the news is ‘old’ or has been updated since the original publication. 

In these instances, the onus is on the student to check when the article was published and if the story has been modified or updated since that original publication.

Always ask the Experts

Another approach to spotting fake news is outsourcing it to experts in the field. These experts can come in many different forms. For example, professors, librarians, researchers, scientists, and journalists can all represent authoritative voices in specific areas.

In recent years, many fact-checking websites have also popped up. These websites present themselves as impartial arbiters of factual accuracy and objectivity, usually employing a rating system to evaluate stories of the day doing the rounds.

As with any of the strategies outlined in this article, the ‘ask the experts’ strategy is far from perfect. While every fact-checking website presents as completely unbiased and objective, they do not always get things right. 

Detecting bias can be a subjective pursuit that can sometimes say as much about the checker’s bias as it does about the checked. Students must still focus on the material and keep their critical faculties engaged.

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Some people can’t get out of their own way.

Identify Fake News With These Online Tools

Here are a few of the best-known fact-checking websites that students can use:

Media Bias/Fact Check This website contains a database of over 3,700 media sources it rates according to a variety of criteria, including bias, political leaning, and an assessment of it tendency for factual reporting.

Hoaxy Run by Indiana University Bloomington, Hoaxy aims to track the spread of misinformation online by tracking the sharing of articles from low-credibility sources on social media.

Snopes originally started as a website devoted to debunking urban myths, but Snopes now also focuses on American politics and has a left-of-centre political leaning itself. This website fact-checks statements made by major political figures (predominately US). The nonprofit Annenberg Public Policy Center runs it.

PolitiFact: PolitiFact rates the accuracy of claims by elected officials and others who speak up in American politics. They use a “Truth-O-Meter” to rate statements on a scale from “True” to “Pants on Fire.”

Google Fact Check Explorer: Google’s Fact Check Explorer allows users to search for specific claims or topics and see fact-checking articles from various sources.

Full Fact: Full Fact is an independent fact-checking organization based in the UK. They fact-check claims made by politicians, public institutions, and the media.

The Washington Post Fact Checker: This project of The Washington Post evaluates the accuracy of claims made by politicians and other public figures. This website tracks money’s influence on U.S. politics and public policy. It provides information on campaign donations and lobbying efforts, allowing students to verify claims about political contributions.

The Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus is an excellent resource for students to be exposed to before exploring fake news. It is a carefully crafted site about the extremely rare “Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus” and what we can all do to save it from extinction before it’s too late. Most students will easily fall for this trap; it is a great conversation starter. is an excellent example of a parody media platform that adds fresh content daily. It is clever, witty, and sometimes wholly and deliberately misleading. Some content can sometimes sit on the edge of risque, so pick your audience when using it.

Here is a list of hundreds of fake news sites broken into various categories. Please take the time to explore these yourself before freely sharing them with students, as they obviously contain misleading and commonly inappropriate information. You will easily find numerous examples of current fake news in action here.

Your Local Library: Libraries often provide access to databases and resources that can help students fact-check information, including academic journals, newspapers, and reference materials.

Encouraging students to use these tools can help them develop strong critical thinking skills and ensure they rely on accurate information in their research and studies.

Media Literacy Versus Fake News

Media literacy is crucial in combating fake news. It equips individuals with the skills to critically evaluate information, discern credible sources, and recognize misinformation tactics. Through media literacy education, people learn to question the motives behind news stories, analyze biases, and verify information from multiple reliable sources.

By understanding how news is produced, distributed, and consumed, individuals become less susceptible to manipulation and misinformation.

Media literacy fosters a sceptical mindset, encouraging people to scrutinize headlines, examine the evidence, and challenge false narratives. Moreover, media literacy promotes responsible online behaviour, emphasizing the importance of fact-checking before sharing information.

In an age where misinformation spreads rapidly through social media and digital platforms, media literacy empowers individuals to navigate the complex information landscape with discernment and integrity. It enables citizens to make informed decisions, participate meaningfully in democratic processes, and uphold the integrity of public discourse. Be sure to read our guide to teaching Media Literacy here.

Unfortunately, the speed with which these new technologies have developed has outstripped our ability to assess what we see on these platforms critically. We are playing catch-up.

As most of our students are daily users of social media, opportunities to put their fake news detection skills to practice won’t be difficult to come by. 

A good starting point for internalizing the above strategies is to tell your students that from now on, before sharing any material online, they should check every source thoroughly to ensure it is true. Disturbingly, 6 out of 10 happily share articles online that they haven’t read themselves. No fake news would ever go viral if everyone did a little fact-checking before sharing.

One of the most challenging aspects of teaching fake news detection skills to our students is that it requires legwork. Separating fact from fake with precision takes effort. Remind students that it is worth the effort. Uncovering the truth is rewarding and helps make the world a better place. Not to mention, no one likes to be duped or used by others for nefarious ends.

With time and practice, the strategies above will become second nature as students develop an instinct for identifying the misleading and the downright fraudulent. 

However, students should also learn that they don’t need to make snap judgments about a source. They should be encouraged to habitually suspend their judgment until they’ve had a chance to examine the evidence. They must develop a negative capability to deal with uncertainty until they’ve had a chance to evaluate sources adequately.

Finally, the students should be impressed that while the above strategies are all beneficial in their own right, they aren’t foolproof. The best chance for students to accurately identify fake news is to use these different strategies in conjunction with each other and constantly apply their own judgment.